The stench of dead cows, rotting in fields in France; crossing a field and realising it had been a minefield that they had only survived because the ground was frozen; thumbing a lift on a Jeep that then hit a landmine and being the only one to escape serious injury.

Sgt Leslie Todd was breaking the rules when he kept a diary of his time in the 90th (Middlesex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, from 1944 to 1945, but because he did his sons Bill and John have a record of what he went through in World War Two, and now Bill has decided to share that with the people of Barnet by publishing the diary to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy and D-Day.

Gunner is the diary, postcards and photographs that Leslie, who grew up in Winchmore Hill and moved to Cockfosters after the war, kept during his time with the regiment. Bill was always interested in hearing his father’s stories and looking through his wartime photographs as a child, and inherited them when Leslie died in 1985.

“It’s one guy’s small part of a much larger venture,“ explains Bill, the former editor of the Barnet & Potters Bar Times, who lives in New Barnet. “He didn’t really talk about it, he was a man of relatively few words, and the diary itself is only about 1,400 words long – you weren’t supposed to keep diaries so it’s very much him jotting down his impressions.“

Leslie, who was 32 at the time, joined the Territorial Army six months before the outbreak of the war in 1939, when it became apparent that war was imminent. He and his fellow volunteers were away on a fortnight’s training camp when they mobilised. “They went away for two weeks and came back six years later,“ says Bill.

The regiment began as a cadre from the Finchley-based 61st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, with recruits drawn from Muswell Hill, Palmers Green, Southgate, Crouch End and Hornsey.

The 90th mobilised on August 24, 1939 – ten days before the declaration of war – and provided home air defence during the Battle of Britain and afterwards.

The men later trained to engage ground and sea targets before landing in Normandy on July 7, 1944, a month after D-Day, taking part in the Battle of Normandy before supporting the advance through Belgium and Holland, and fighting at Nijmegen before crossing the Rhine into Germany.

Bill has supplemented his father’s diary and pictures with extracts from the official regimental diary, written by the commanding officer in Hamburg just before the war ended, and also sections of the official war diaries, obtained from the public records office.

“He saw a lot of people he knew killed and nobody likes the idea of war, but being there and facing the risks and making friends for life, I think it was probably the most exciting time of his life,“ says Bill. “He was quite aware he was taking part in something momentous